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ZDNet UK's Rupert Goodwins takes a look at how humans have dealt with storage issues from the beginning of recorded history.
Computing and human civilization are useless without data storage. States and cultures have relied on it for more than 5,000 years, but recently we've become rather good at making it fast, capacious and small. Here's a canter through the history of one of our most enduring technologies.
The first systematic data storage system was the cuneiform writing system, which kicked off in around 3400BCE. Although it evolved into a complete written language, it started off as a way to count and categorise agricultural production and, inevitably, to calculate taxes.
Made by pressing a stylus into a clay tablet, the writing could be rubbed out subsequently — or the tablet could be baked for more permanent storage.
Thousands of legible tablets and other inscriptions survive, an impressive feat that we're unlikely to duplicate with modern technology. However, storage capacity is limited, with a single mobile phone-sized tablet maxing out at around 500 bytes.
Photo credit: Library of Congress
Gutenberg printing press
The first data storage system that allowed efficient replication — with all that implies for communication and storage — in the West was Johannes Gutenberg's printing press. Although its output was not much more dense than cuneiform — and the storage medium more fragile — this one invention enabled the Enlightenment and can fairly be said to be the spark that led to all subsequent technology.
Gutenberg invented moveable, mass-producable metal type and oil-based ink, and adapted the agricultural press to the task of producing practically infinite, perfect copies of written work. The printing press was quickly and widely adopted everywhere with the exception of the Arabic speaking world, where it was very slow to be picked up due to a combination of powerful entrenched interests among manuscript makers and technical difficulties in creating acceptable Arabic moveable type.
Credit: Andrew Plumb/Flickr